Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions

Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions

Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions

Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions

Synopsis

This book is a profound exploration of truth commissions around the world, and the anguish, injustice, and the legacy of hate they are meant to absolve. Hayner examines twenty major truth commissions established around the world paying special attention to South Africa, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile, and Guatemala.

Excerpt

“How does one make a truth commission?” asked an earnest-looking Burmese girl in the front row. This was spring 2000, and the place was the headquarters of Aung San Suu Kyi’s embattled National League for Democracy, surrounded by agents of military intelligence. At Aung San Suu Kyi’s invitation, I was speaking about transitions to democracy. What the audience—who risk their freedom and their livelihood by attending such meetings—seemed to like most of all in my remarks was the idea of seeing those who had ruined their golden land sitting and sweating in front of a truth commission.

“How does one make a truth commission?” she asked; and I wish that I could have pressed Priscilla Hayner’s book into her hand. For this is the most comprehensive, sober, nuanced and authoritative attempt yet made to answer a question posed not just in Burma, but in many countries that are contemplating or already engaged in the difficult transition from dictatorship. Increasingly, people recognize that such countries can and should learn from the experience of others, not just about how to build a market economy, to write a constitution or to restore the rule of law, but also about how to deal with a difficult past. There are various terms or circumlocu-tions for this business of past-beating, each of them implying a slightly different priority. Yet all recognize that the problem of “what to do about the past” is a major and intrinsic part of such transitions. Indeed, it can make the difference between success and failure.

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